BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The Good War left lots of bad stuff behind — and buried — even on the Space Coast, where the only combat was offshore, where U-boats sank merchant ships and our soldiers sank U-boats in fiery oil-leaking infernos.
Now, the federal government is back to locate, unearth and remove whatever long-hidden hazards from World War II and other decades-old military activities were buried near Patrick Space Force Base, an area where hundreds of homes now sit, according to Florida Today.
Residents of the area have long raised concerns about what they see as an abnormal number of rare illnesses among their number, and worry that long-forgotten military waste remains a continuing health risk.
On Feb. 27, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers embarked on a $5.8 million project to use ground-penetrating radar to scan yards within a 52-acre site the federal agency has identified in South Patrick Shores, just south of Patrick Space Force Base, which was part of Banana River Naval Air Station during World War II.
Here’s what’s happening, according to the Corps of Engineers:
How many homes are involved?
As of late February, 182 homes had signed right-of-entry forms, giving the Corps’ contractor permission to scan their yards for buried military waste.
The Corps contractor, IE-Weston, will conduct so-called geophysical surveys to define more specifically the location of any disposed waste, generating a remediation plan sometime next year.
There are early concerns from at least one of the homeowners within the area that the early efforts are are not covering nearly enough ground in residents yards, using ground-penetrating radar.
How long will it take?
The geophysical surveys could take weeks or months.
The Corps plans to evaluate the data to determine if additional fieldwork is needed to fill any data gaps and/or to locate the limits of any disposed material.
Gathering, then validating lab results of soil samples also could take months.
Depending on the results of soil sampling, crews may need to resample nearby or deeper and/or need to install groundwater monitoring wells,. Groundwater samples may need to be collected in different seasons, and depending on the results, more samples might need to be collected and/or installed.
The Corps anticipates a draft remedial investigation report in the summer of 2024. The purpose of the report is to determine the nature and extent of the Navy’s impacts at the off-base disposal area. If necessary, a feasibility study would follow and then a proposed cleanup plan, which would include a public comment period.
Some area residents have for decades been concerned by what they see as an abnormally high rate of rare cancers and other diseases among those who have lived in the area.
For decades, small pockets of people have suspected the base’s radar facilities or chemicals and material that got dumped or buried in the ground were making them sick. Builders unearthed airplane parts, vehicle batteries and crushed barrels of petroleum during construction in South Patrick Shores.
A government investigation of the South Patrick Shores in the late 1980s and early 1990s found “no apparent public heath hazard” from waste buried in the area, and the military denied responsibility for the waste. At the time, officials said they also failed to find any records that the Navy had ever owned or leased the land.
The issue resurfaced in 2018 when a Jacksonville oncologist who went to Satellite High raised concerns that her cancer and that of about 20 others who went to the school might have been caused by environmental factors.
After that, based on newly found records showing the Navy did in fact use the property, the area became eligible for cleanup under the Corps’ Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program.
A state report in 2019, found no significant health risk. But the Jacksonville oncologist who graduated from Satellite High, said the state performed an inadequate study.
How much will all this cost?
This $5.8 million early phase of the project will yield a draft remedial investigation report in the summer of 2024.
The total cost and exact timelines of the cleanup have yet to be determined. If necessary, a feasibility study would follow and then a proposed cleanup plan, Corps officials said, which would include a public comment period.
How might contaminants be entering homes?
Vapors from industrial solvents and other contaminants in the soil can rise up into homes through cracks in concrete slabs and other openings in homes.
An Aug. 9 presentation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to state and local government officials recommended studying indoor air quality of homes in the South Patrick Shores area. The Corps noted that indoor air quality samples might show that homes were “potentially impacted by Navy-derived waste materials.”
Where can I learn more?
Here is a link to the Remedial Investigation Fact Sheet: https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getfile/collection/p16021coll7/id/22143
Contact: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District Toll-Free at (800) 710-5184 or FUDS.Florida@usace.army.mil www.saj.usace.army.mil/BananaRiver Project documents can be viewed at: Satellite Beach Library, 751 Jamaica Blvd., phone: (321) 779-4004.
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